Girl in Disguise
Girl in Disguise tells the story of Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective. Kate is a recent widow and in desperate need of money in 1856 Chicago. She sees the famous Allan Pinkerton’s ad for new detectives and decides to convince him to hire her as his first female detective. It’s not an easy job, and she has to overcome a lot of obstacles, but eventually she becomes somewhat of a legend herself.
There is hardly any information about Kate Warne, and the author acknowledges this. However, the cases that Kate was known to have worked on are in this book, and Ms. Macallister seamlessly creates a story that integrates each of her cases.
This book is more about the woman that Kate Warne was, as opposed to the specific cases she solved. They are in there, but more as insight into how they transformed Kate into a legendary detective. The author may have taken some liberties with Kate’s story since not much is known about her, but anyone that is willing to be the first at anything is someone worth knowing about. I recommend you check it out.
Arcadian Nights: The Greek Myths Reimagined
The Greek myths are ones that have been told thousands of times in every form and to varying levels of degree. Yet, I can never seem to keep myself from reaching for them and devouring page after page. My absolute favorite is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and now there’s Arcadian Nights.
Arcadian Nights is somehow, miraculously, approached differently than the other retellings of myths I’ve read. Author John Spurling draws from his own experiences in Greece to give the reader a sense of the modern country and the land that is very much still Greece from the soil to the olive groves it nourishes, from the seas to the ships they stock with fish. At the same time, however, his focus remains on the myths. Spurling approaches these stories with the tone of an authoritative historian, but his third person narration offers the read a glimmer of the fantastical nature the myths are known for. Inventing dialogue to ease emotional responses into the narration and offering the classic characters with relatable motivations, Spurling’s writing promises to keep even the most well-read mythology lovers intrigued.
I love any telling that is able to bring these characters back to life, but I’m finding more and more now that any great departure from the traditional tellings of the myths is enough to get me to close the book. Spurling walks that tightrope between not transforming the characters enough and tampering with the authenticity and offers the reader a well-balanced collection of myths that hovers nearer the realistic side of the spectrum than Homer and Aeschylus may have endorsed, but it is nonetheless well tailored to a modern audience.
Whitehall (Season 1 Episode 4): “Wit in All Languages”
King Charles has decided to put his foot down and break Queen Catherine to make her a more obedient wife. Queen Catherine is devastated but vows to keep her true feelings to herself. She must sadly watch as her Portuguese entourage leaves. Words of wisdom are shared with the King about his actions; while they seem to fall on deaf ears, the King may be listening more than he is letting on. Meanwhile, Barbara waits – ready to take her place as a Lady of the Bedchamber for the queen. She even convinces Charles to hold a ball for the queen to brighten her spirits. However, Barbara hasn’t done anything that doesn’t benefit herself and it is doubtful she will start now. The ball begins and the King, along with his women, take their places. There is no doubt that it will be one to remember.
Episode 4 of Whitehall is a complete delight that will leave readers desperate for more. Despite King Charles being the central male character that many may believe drives the storyline, it is the women who are keeping this episode a page-turning success. Barbara is particularly interesting. We watch her weave her way into the kingdom, yet she shows little effort to change her self-centered ways. However, as England’s new queen, Catherine is proving to be more than what was originally expected. While she is a woman who is small in stature, she has shown that she can stand up for herself and is willing to evolve to become both a great queen and a beloved wife. What is so entertaining is that neither of these women are ready or willing to give up quite yet. Keep up with Whitehall by reading episodes one through four – available on Amazon.
Read our other episode reviews of Whitehall.
Whitehall (Season 1 Episode 2): “Skilled Artifice”
The wedding is set to be in an Anglican church; however, holding close to her heart and roots, Catherine wants a Catholic ceremony as well or she will not feel she is married in the eyes of God. Barbara, his mistress, is set to deliver his second child any day. Charles has many obstacles to face that he handles with ease. Once they are married Charles takes Catherine to Hampton Court Palace for their honeymoon and eventually sends Barbara back to London. Catherine and Roger, the spouses of Charles and Barbara respectively, are beginning to tolerate less and test their limits more. Catherine has decided that Jenny, a young maid, is one she can trust and gather information about her husband’s exploits from. The queen is well aware of Barbara, but isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. Roger has had his fill of Barbara and his place as the stand-in father for the King’s bastard children – this throws Barbara into a fit of rage and a sticky situation. It seems that the winds of change are coming and who lands safely in the wake and who doesn’t may be very surprising.
In episode two, Whitehall continues to deliver elegance, intrigue, and scandal in top form. A lot of character development and evolving takes place in this episode. Catherine and Roger are ready to take a stand and Barbara and Charles are just learning what they are up against, both good and bad. The King may rule the land, but the players in his web of lies and deception are anything but under his complete control. Only two episodes in and the scandal is already knee deep. I cannot wait to see what happens next!
Read our other episode reviews of Whitehall.
One Cowrie Shell
Sparks’ One Cowrie Shell is a tragic coming-of-age story set amidst the backdrop of a terrible period in humanity’s near history. Jaiye is a member of the Yoruba tribe. He is on the cusp of manhood, tending his yam field, and dreaming of the woman he wants as his wife. Unfortunately for Jaiye, Kembi is already promised to another. It is the custom of the Yoruba that village elders arrange marriages. Kembi is promised to Ekun, and Akinya to Jaiye. Our young protagonist is very inquisitive and very stubborn. He is ready to go fight the neighboring Dahomey, as his people have done for as long as anyone can remember. He wants to turn prisoners over to the slave traders and earn cowrie shells. While merely pretty shells to the Europeans and Americans, cowrie shells serve a monetary value to the Yoruba and Dahomey.
Jaiye repeatedly insists, with the stubbornness teens anywhere can muster, that he will have Kembi for his wife. Despite the counsel and contrivances of his father, Jaiye will not let go of the foolish idea. He commits a terrible crime, earning him thirty cowries in blood money, and his actions lead to three villagers being taken away by slavers- Ekun, Kembi, and Jaiye’s little brother, Lekan. Jaiye embarks on a perilous journey to find them, crossing the ocean and stalking plantations like a panther in the dark, careful to stay out of sight. His journey takes him up and down the U.S. coast, across the sea to England, and back home to the Yoruba.
Though Jaiye learns of all three who were taken, not one of them makes the journey back home with him. Jaiye returns with a wealth of knowledge, though. He is the first to travel to ’the other world,’ and returned to tell of it. He has seen the atrocities inflicted on the slaves–the beatings, the rapes, the senseless killings. Jaiye has a new mission in life, albeit, perhaps a somewhat futile one. He wants to stop the fighting between Yoruba and Dahomey for good, something easier said than done. Jaiye goes from being g a self-absorbed child, for the most part, to a somewhat respectable man.
Fun stuff: I am an anthropologist by schooling, if not active practice, and I loved the glimpses of Yoruba culture and history. These details seem accurate so far as my knowledge goes. This region/cultural milieu isn’t my forte, but I am now interested in learning more. The details of slave trading, and this era of slavery, were an accurate reminder of a harsh and senselessly heartbreaking period. One particular point of interest for me was the funerary customs of the Yoruba and the superstitions regarding daytime burials, such as the spirit seeing their shadow and retaliate against the living.
Jaiye slowly learned valuable lessons, such as the Yoruba and Dahomey should stop fighting and sending people to the slavers, and that the loss of dignity suffered by captives of either side has no monetary value. I was particularly touched when Jaiye found Ekun and came to the realization that Ekun had seen him as a friend, not a competitor. Jaiye began to realize the harsh consequences of his actions in relation to what happened to Lekan, Kembi, and Ekun, which were horrific events even hearing about them ‘second-hand.’
Not so fun stuff: the writing seemed very simplistic at times. There was a good deal of telling, when showing would have been more engaging. Some of the dialogue, and other phrasing, seems stilted. It comes across as forced and unrealistic. There were also descriptions of daily activity that is random and, while interesting, not relevant to the story.
I would strongly recommend a professional editing round to help strengthen and tighten the writing. There is a good deal of unnecessary repetition that could be phrased differently, implied in different ways, or eliminated altogether. Point: Jaiye’s father reiterating numerous times that Akinya will be his wife; she is the one chosen for him, and it cannot be changed. Jaiye needs a smart Gibbs smack to the back of the head. His poor da has patience to put a saint to shame.
Another issue that cropped up often were places where quote marks were missing or where they are present and should not be. Tense bounced back and forth from present to past in same paragraph, sometimes even same sentence. Occasionally, type switched to italics for no apparent reason, which jarred me from the story as I attempted to suss out why the change had been made.
This story has a lot of potential, and Sparks could take it so much further. There’s certainly room for Sparks to bloom as an author. I hope to see an edited, cleaned-up second edition of One Cowrie Shell in the future! I will happily adjust my rating accordingly, and I do intend to keep a weather eye out for new works by the author.
String’s Cross is a difficult book to describe. It reads like a family history, with String’s grandparents arriving in America, then the story of his parents, then of himself. In the middle of String’s narrative, the “me” of the narrator enters, and continues in, a back and forth style for the remainder of the story. Part family history, part social and religious satire, this is an atypical history that goes from fruit ranching to the wild west of early computing, with family, religion, and a sense of aging and times gone by underlying the narrative.
The best word to describe this book is ambitious. It does a lot of things, goes in many directions, somehow manages to link flappers and computers, masturbation with Jesus, and pulls it off to a greater or lesser extent. It has a strong voice and is vividly descriptive in places, but can jarring as well, especially after Essen begins to interject his personal narrative into the story, telling both it and String’s. While these asides can be read as satire, it’s also distracting, especially when combined with the wandering narrative. The narrative itself is also problematic. For the most part, it remains linear and contains lots of little tensions, but it lacks one overarching tension to draw the whole story together. This is very much a text that will depend on what readers bring to it. In some ways, it’s a quaint novel about a family as it experiences the twentieth century. Yet there’s also an air of dysfunction, unhappiness, and religiosity that may not sit well with other readers.
One line that stands out is about Grandma Caroline, a very proper, stoic German woman, who never said much about the old country she came from, except how when asked why she came to America, replied, “I didn’t wish to eat any more brown bread.” Likewise, this book is equally enigmatic, with aspects that can be appreciated and others that remains downright puzzling.